Understand what PaaS is

There is a lot of talk around PaaS but does the promised potential to deliver flexibility to meet business challenges live up to scrutiny? We have been very excited about it for a long time and this has grown as we have worked with it more closely (particularly Oracle PaaS), but it is important to have a clear picture of what PaaS actually is and where it fits in the overall picture.

What is PaaS?

PaaS (Platform as a Service) is generally the middle tier of Cloud software delivery, which is typically comprised of IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), PaaS and SaaS (Software as a Service). Oracle further include a fourth service, DaaS (Data as a Service), which is not included in this conversation. Despite the hype, PaaS is not really new. Amazon Web Services, for example, were launched in 2006 (http://aws.amazon.com/about-aws/) and Gartner mention it as far back as 2009. Oracle have been talking about PaaS for a while now (our involvement in PaaS with Oracle goes back to 2013) and have been steadily increasing their portfolio of PaaS services.


Figure 1 is a representation of the layers, as explained by Gartner, with some notable examples, back in 2009.

Most readers will probably be familiar with SaaS, not only from the examples in the 2009 picture from Gartner above, but also from other applications which have been gaining publicity, and about which we’ve written extensively: Oracle CX Cloud – Service, Sales, Marketing, Social, CPQ, etc. However, for completeness, we can start by talking about what will be most familiar to everyone. Gartner, again, describes the Software as a Service (SaaS) layer as:

“[…] software that is owned, delivered and managed remotely by one or more providers. The provider delivers software based on one set of common code and data definitions that is consumed in a one-to-many model by all contracted customers at anytime on a pay-for-use basis or as a subscription based on use metrics.” (Gartner, http://www.gartner.com/it-glossary/software-as-a-service-saas/)

Technically, SaaS applications are those running remotely on application servers, sometimes leveraging the capabilities of a number of other services, like the case of Oracle Sales Cloud (Oracle Fusion Applications, which make use of several Oracle technologies, like database, BI, Essbase, Real Time Decisions, etc.). A key point is that SaaS apps are used mainly by business users and the level of configuration available is somewhat limited (from an IT perspective, but vastly liberating from an end user perspective, when compared to more traditional on-premise offerings).

These other servers and services can be exposed themselves to developers, who would be able to build more complex applications, either as standalone or to complement existing SaaS applications. When this happens, the layer providing these services is called Platform as a Service (PaaS):

“[…] a broad collection of application infrastructure (middleware) services (including application platform, integration, business process management and database services).” (Gartner, http://www.gartner.com/it-glossary/platform-as-a-service-paas/)

Finally, all of these depend on IT infrastructure, usually managed by IT service professionals and not developers (much less business users). When delivered in the same subscription-based model as SaaS and PaaS, this is referred to as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS):

“[…] a standardized, highly automated offering, where compute resources, complemented by storage and networking capabilities are owned and hosted by a service provider and offered to customers on-demand. Customers are able to self-provision this infrastructure, using a Web-based graphical user interface that serves as an IT operations management console for the overall environment. API access to the infrastructure may also be offered as an option.” (Gartner, http://www.gartner.com/it-glossary/infrastructure-as-a-service-iaas/)

The clear driver for IaaS is eliminating the need to host and maintain expensive hardware, which is usually replaced with subscription services.

What exactly is considered a platform service or infrastructure service can be debated, but this is the high-level distinction between IaaS, PaaS and SaaS.

Why is PaaS important?

Figure 2. Comparison of Cloud “as a Service” options.

Figure 2. Comparison of Cloud “as a Service” options.

Figure 2 above shows a comparison between the various layers we already described. It is particularly insightful in showing the progression from IaaS to SaaS. In SaaS, most of the features are delivered by the subscription service, the intended user is a business user and they are expected to be able to perform some level of customisations (adding fields, changing the UI around, building custom reports and analyses, etc.).

On the opposite end, IaaS delivers the most potential, as it can be used to build a platform, on top of which applications are delivered. The intended direct user however is far removed from the business user.

Here, we are interested in the middle layer: not too complex on the one hand and still providing a very high level of potential on the other. PaaS is a powerful set of tools that can be used by developers to build and deploy applications, to integrate applications, to implement and automate business processes, etc. The power in using PaaS comes from the possibilities it offers specifically when extending SaaS applications, a model commonly referred to as PaaS4SaaS (“PaaS for SaaS”).

Oracle’s PaaS

Oracle’s current PaaS (and IaaS) offerings include a broad range of services, as illustrated in figure 3.

Figure 3. Oracle PaaS and IaaS portfolio, as of 2015.

Figure 3. Oracle PaaS and IaaS portfolio, as of 2015.

The obvious advantages in using Oracle’s PaaS are the years of experience and the breadth of the underlying (Oracle) technologies and IP that Oracle can bring to the table (and offer “as a service”). The result is a very broad service offering in PaaS and IaaS (not to mention SaaS) that are based on common standards such as SQL, Java, HTML5, etc.

Java is an important item to highlight from the common standards, as it is a differentiator between Oracle’s PaaS offering and the equivalent of, for example, Salesforce.com, whose Force.com PaaS offering uses a proprietary languace, Apex. The fact that with Oracle apps can be built in what is arguably one of the most popular programming languages is a clear advantage over proprietary-based platforms, due to its portability and the availability of skilled programmers.

This completeness of vision ideally positions Oracle to lead the adoption of PaaS in the enterprise applications market: Oracle estimate that 72% of their customers are expected to start using PaaS from 2014 to 2017 (quoted during OOW14, “Oracle’s Cloud Computing Strategy: Your Strategy, Your Cloud, Your Choice” [CON1980]).

These customers are using PaaS first and foremost to enhance existing products and services and the user experience of those products, and also to improve their users’ productivity by automating processes.

What are Boxfusion Consulting doing in PaaS?

We have been following Oracle’s progression to cloud for almost 3 years now and have been invited by Oracle to test use the initial offerings of Java Cloud Services and Integration Cloud Services, for example. As part of our relationship with existing Sales and Service Cloud customers, we are building and deploying apps built on Java Cloud Services and we are very excited to continue to build a pipeline of ideas and solutions, with which to help our clients make the most of their SaaS subscriptions.

For our clients, this means that we can help them reduce costs by using standardised and consolidated cloud-based resources. PaaS also means that we can help them be more agile, rapidly building and deploying applications for testing and production environments and integrating existing cloud and on-premise applications. Perhaps the most significant benefit for clients currently using Oracle Cloud SaaS applications is being able to extend these beyond their in-built configuration capabilities, to better support the clients’ business models and process and increase user adoption.

One such example is for a large Sales Cloud client, who have felt the need to automate some processes involving complex calculations, which we embedded seamlessly into their Sales Cloud instance (figure 4). This particular example shows how SaaS applications can be extended with Oracle PaaS in such a way that end users will not realise that they have left the SaaS (in this case Oracle Sales Cloud).


Figure 4. PaaS (Java Cloud Service) application on the left hand side, seamlessly embedded in Oracle Sales Cloud, using the Simplified UI skin (out-of-the-box Opportunity page on the right, for comparison).

Our PaaS team are currently working on a number of PaaS solutions so keep an eye out on a our company blog for details of these or if you would like to hear more about how PaaS might be used to help your business, please give us a call on +44 203 283 4315 or contact us here!

Boxfusion help organisations deliver improved Customer eXperience (CX) and take better business decisions. We are Specialised Oracle Service and Sales Cloud Implementation partners and work across the full CX suite with particular expertise in implementations of multiple CX products.

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